BOOKSHELF: War in the boardroom

War in the boardroom
Why left-brain management and right-brain marketing don’t see eye-to-eye – and what to do about it.
By: Al & Laura Ries
Publisher: Harper Collins Business
RRP: $39.99
Reviewer: Reg Birchfield

Marketers have seldom been well represented at New Zealand board tables. Instead, we populate our boards with accountants and lawyers or managers who have successfully scrambled to the top and broken through into the world of governance.
Fact is, marketers seldom get much traction at the top of our predominantly process and financial performance driven organisations. War in the Boardoom, book written by marketing consultants Al Ries and his daughter Laura, offers an explanation. The focus of their thinking is contained in the book’s sub-title: Why left-brain management and right-brain marketing don’t see eye-to-eye – and what to do about it.
Being left-brain dominant, managers (for this read also accountants and lawyers) focus on logical and analytical ways of dealing with the world. Marketers on the other hand, are usually right-brain dominant so they are more intuitive, holistic in approach and are more likely to see the big picture in visual format.
Chief executives are invariably left brainers. They make decisions supported by facts, figures, market data and consumer research. And, as the authors concede, “it couldn’t be otherwise in world where the ultimate measurement is the bottom line and the stock price”. They therefore speak language common to the majority of board members.
Marketers speak language foreign to most directors. As right brainers they often make “gut decisions” with little or no supporting evidence. It couldn’t be otherwise in creative discipline like marketing, the authors suggest. It is case of thinking differently – verbal versus visual; analytic versus holistic; certainty versus uncertainty; managers versus entrepreneurs.
The suspicion bred of different thinking all too often leads to boardroom battles which, the authors contend, compromise marketing campaigns and strategies and thereby the performance effectiveness of many organisations.
The battles have common theme. Management argues for ideas and concepts that are “just plain common sense”, reflection of their left-brain thinking. Marketers meanwhile argue for ideas and concepts that might not be logical but which they intuitively believe will work – reflection of their right-brain thinking.
Who decides? As the authors explain: “The deck is stacked. Every marketing decision has to be approved by management.”
The Ries draw on their boardroom battle experiences to make their point. The book’s 25 chapters explore the different areas in which there are opinion differences between management and marketing thinking – between left- and right-brainers.
The value of the book is not simply that it points out the obvious difference in thinking that attaches to the different disciplines, but that boards make little allowance for this reality. Now it is time when all the creative thinking possible must be harnessed to ensure not just success but survival. If boards are to take advantage of this reality, they will either need to think about their composition or start thinking differently about difference.

The authors want “management people to take the time to better understand the principles of marketing, especially the difference between common sense and marketing sense”. It is also their hope that marketing people will take the time to better understand why management often rejects their proposals and especially the need to re-frame those proposals in logical, verbal, analytical terms.
Diversity in the boardroom is not bad thing. Diversity of thinking is just as valid as any other governance and managerial diversity – in today’s increasingly competitive world it is probably critical.
This is good book. It is thought-provoking and packed full of fascinating examples that are well written, relevant and down-to-earth. It also addresses an issue that more boards should think about. The disconnect between marketing and management thinking has cost many successful enterprise promising and profitable future.

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